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7 Reasons Why You Should Thank Customers That Complain

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Call center representative solving customer issues.

Be honest. When was the last time you really meant it when you told a customer that complained, “thank you for bringing this issue to my attention”? I am sure some reading this post really did mean it. I’m betting others thanked them as part of a rehearsed script in a customer service action plan. Others didn’t thank them at all. Some became defensive. And still others took the offensive and tried to make the issue the customer's fault! Being in customer service is not an easy job. It is the front line. It is raw. It is a dynamic situation where often there is no warning that a customer is going to complain, to “launch” on you. The reality is some customers are going to complain. Not every customer experience is going to be a good one. The job of a customer service professional is to show empathy, to show emotional intelligence, and to find out why the customer is unhappy and to fix it. The job of a customer service professional is to say, “thank you for bringing this issue to my attention” and mean it. Here are 7 reasons why.

Reason 1. Customers that complain reveal what your business can do better.

The poet John Lydgate wrote “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. I believe that most of us, especially customer service professionals, will agree with this. There is a reason you “can’t please all of the people all of the time”. Everyone experiences events differently. I do not recommend that you change your customer service products and processes based on individual customer inputs.

For example, most ultramarathons that are 50 miles or longer start early in the morning, some as early as 4:00AM. The primary reason for starting early is for safety, to allow runners to run more of the race during cooler parts of the day (especially in the summer). Some runners complain because they don’t like to get up early. For a race director, this is a dead-end customer complaint. Safety trumps personal inconvenience.

On the other hand, the 2007 Chicago Marathon was cancelled 3.5 hours into the race due to record setting heat and humidity. Up to that point, it was Chicago’s hottest October 7th ever. Temperatures soared into the high 80s. Hundreds fell ill, many being taken away in ambulances. One runner died. Runners were consuming much more water and sports drink due to the hot conditions. Volunteers working the water stations could not keep up with the runner’s needs. Race officials underestimated how much water, sports drink and cups would be required on the course to handle the extra fluid that runners were consuming to stay hydrated and cool. Afterwards many participants in the race complained about the lack of preparedness by Chicago Marathon officials for the extreme heat. Those complaints led to changes that has made this great race safer for the runners.

Reason 2. Customers that complain may be the tip of the iceberg. The unhappy ones that aren’t complaining may just be walking away.

Here are statistics that should make you rest uneasy.

66% of consumers who switched brands was due to poor customer service. 85% of those defections could have been prevented. Of those, 11% could have been prevented just by reaching out to them and 67% by solving the issue the first time. Source: Kolsky

These customers are taking their business elsewhere. Once a customer switches to a competitor, it is difficult to get them back. Finding new customers to replace them is more costly than keeping the customers you have. Much of this churn is from customers who aren’t making the effort to complain, or it may be that the company they are complaining to is not handling the complaint correctly. Either way, the customer that complains is invested in your brand. Thank them.

Reason 3. Customers that complain are valuable resources for improving the customer experience.

Out of 362 firms surveyed, 80% believed they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers. But when customers were asked, their perception was that only 8% of companies were really delivering. Source: Bain & Company.

This is a significant disconnect! Your company does not get to decide how good your customer experience is. It is the customer that decides. If your customer has a complaint, listen. It is an opportunity to improve. If it is a systemic issue, fixing it will improve your product or service to more than the one customer who complained. The customer that complained is the one that raised their hand to tell you about something that concerned them, while other customers remained silent and disgruntled. So, thank them for bringing the issue to your attention and invite them to participate in your next customer journey road mapping session!

“The job of a customer service professional is to show empathy, to show emotional intelligence, and to find out why the customer is unhappy and to fix it.”

Reason 4. Customers that complain are the ones that are engaged and care.

For anyone who works in customer service, how many times have you heard this dialog going on between your team?

“Who was that you were talking to Karen?”

“Oh, it was John from 3TB Corp calling with a complaint. Nice guy, but he is always complaining! He never forgets anything, reminding me of issues from years ago, long since resolved. He always asks for me when he has an issue.”

So, what are the take-aways from this brief exchange?

  • John from 3TB Corp cares enough to complain.

  • 3TB Corp continues to give Karen’s company their business and has been for years.

  • John has a long memory, but he clearly has confidence in Karen to get his issues resolved.

  • Instead of 3TB going to a competitor, they choose to stay with Karen’s company in part because of their customer service.

If your organization can resolve customer service issues quickly, demonstrating empathy, emotional intelligence, and effective communication with the customer throughout the process, it will help to build customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. A customer that complains is a customer that is engaged, a customer that cares enough to stay with your company and not walk away unless you give them a reason to do so.

Reason 5. Customers that complain can help you grow your bottom line.

Increase customer retention rates by just 5% and profit increases anywhere from 25% to 95%.

[Source: Bain & Company]

To increase customer retention rates, you need to know if customers are unhappy and ready to leave. How else will you know this unless they tell you? You may be asking yourself, if the customers that complain are the tip of the iceberg, and many more who are not complaining may be quietly switching to competitors without telling us, how do I get ahead of this? Good question!

A voice of the customer survey (VoC) with customer satisfaction (CSAT), customer effort (CE) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) questions embedded into the questionnaire is an effective way to find out what your customers are concerned about. Survey information is the first step to understanding what your customer wants and expects. Aligning with your customer is crucial to becoming a partner in your customer’s business rather than just a supplier. Of course, the most important aspect of this process is what you do with the information you have received from your customers. Your business's customer retention rates will improve if you act on what your customers are telling you. It is true that not all of your customers will respond to a survey, but if you get a statistically significant response, it will be enough to arm your business with the information you need to make positive changes that will positively impact your customers and your bottom line!

Reason 6. Customers that complain is what makes customer service fulfilling.

Speaking from personal experience, there is no more satisfying feeling then making an unhappy customer happy! If the issue is resolved quickly and effectively, they may even become an advocate of your brand. It goes back to knowing that the customer who takes the time to complain generally cares. It is knowing that this customer will continue to give you their business and has the confidence that if another issue arises, you and your team will effectively handle it. When you convert a customer from a detractor to an advocate it is good for your brand, good for your team and good for company morale. Happy customers typically equate to happy support staff.

Reason 7. Customers that complain are after all…customers. They are the reason you are in business!

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” – Mahatma Gandhi

So, when your customers complain, listen, act, and thank them! They are spending their most precious resource, time, to tell you what your organization needs to do to satisfy them, to be better, to be successful and to retain their business.

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”Henry Ford

To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer service, please visit Bass


Patrick Sandefur profile picture

Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.

Read more from Patrick Sandefur by clicking on recent posts below.


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